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tourist boy jumping rope with local kids at a school in Chiawa Zambia

Ask a Teenager: 5 Unusual Trips Kids Will Love

Note from Wendy: This article was written by my son Doug when he was 16, based on his experiences in more than 50 countries. 

Now that most of the world’s countries have reopened and you can take your family pretty much anywhere again, I’ve thought back to some of my favorite foreign adventures. These are places where teenagers like me can go beyond the typical beach resorts, explore a different culture, talk to the local people, and learn what the world is really like.



  1. Zambia and Zimbabwe

In the undisturbed wilderness here, animals roam free and rule the land, and they are magnificent. It was my first time staying at a bush camp, so I was excited but scared. After landing in Zambia, first we drove from Mfuwe Airport to the Mfuwe Lodge, where we stayed the first few nights.

view from a car driving on a road in Zambia, a white tourist boy and an African driver

The moment we arrived, we were invited on a game drive that night. About three seconds in, not even moving, there it was: A beautiful leopard trying to get through the locked gate to the spa. Maybe to make his or her nightly spa treatment.

Then, three minutes into the drive, there was a baby hippo walking across the road.  On a night game drive, you see different animals than on a daytime drive—or, if they’re the same animals, you see them in different locations.

We traveled to different bush camps almost every day. There were animals everywhere. On the third drive, we went to a lagoon that had three teenage lions. We got within 15 feet of them.

It was exhilarating but scary to be 15 feet from an animal that is 8 feet long, wild, and could kill you in seconds. We weren’t too worried, though, because the lions had just gorged themselves and could hardly move.

We spent a few days in the village of Chiawa, where we saw how real people live in Zambia and learned about their culture and their life, which is very different from ours.

kids at a water pump in Chiawa Zambia

We got to visit a school there. The students were so welcoming to us and invited us to play with them. It was great getting to meet them.

kids playing ping pong at a school in Chiawa Zambia

A group of girls called The Power Kittens, a girls’ empowerment club, even greeted us with a welcome dance.

When you don’t speak the same language, you can make friends with people through sports. That’s why we brought frisbees with us as a gift for the school.  We played volleyball with the students too, and they showed us games they’d made up jumping rope.

The next day we went to a church service in Chiawa. Many of the kids who went to that school attended the service. It was more fun and upbeat than the church services I had been to in the past. They sang in beautiful harmony.

Then we went to Zimbabwe and to Victoria Falls, which is one of the world’s largest waterfalls.  You can really appreciate the beauty of the falls from a helicopter.

Another highlight of Victoria Falls was the Elephant Cafe, which rescues and rehabilitates elephants.  You actually get to hand-feed them. It was exciting to hand-feed peanuts to the world’s biggest land animal that could kill you at any second.

On the way to the elephants, we took a jet boat over rapids on the Zambezi river above the falls, The boat was bouncing over huge rapids, skimming the rocks, and water was flying every which way.  What surprised me was how fast a large boat could go over rapids, even when it was hitting rocks.

I got drenched in water. It was an unforgettable experience.


2. Israel and Jordan

Joe Yudin, who lives in Israel and guided us around the country, was so fun and amazing. The first thing he did was take us sandboarding in the Negev desert.

man holding a sandboard in Negev desert Israel

He gave us the best experiences possible, from all the religious sights to taking a powered paraglider over Masada and the Dead Sea.

Powered paragliding over Masada Israel

For more about the powered paraglider (and more photos and video), read my article 3 Cool Things To Do on a Family Trip in Israel.

We saw so much of the world’s greatest history all in one spot. We did everything from spelunking through the buried city to visiting war zones and a secret underground bullet factory.

We learned about Israeli foods like all the different types of hummus, which taste like completely different dishes depending on the toppings. Food expert Inbal Baum gave us a food tour of Tel Aviv.

We went to markets to buy the food for an Israeli cuisine cooking lesson we had. The Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem was massive, with all the smells circulating through your nose all at once.

Then Chef Tali Friedman taught us how to cook the ingredients in her kitchen.

cooking class in Jerusalem Israel

Later we went to an archeological dig site.

It was like the most unexpected treasure hunt.  We uncovered mostly broken pottery, but our neighbor was on an earlier trip there with her family and found jewelry, in the same spot we were digging in, that is now in a museum.

two teenage boy tourist sifting sand for artifacts at Tel Maresha Israel

At the Dead Sea, we covered ourselves in mud, and when I went into the water it came off and it felt like my skin was reborn. Getting to float in the Dead Sea was spectacular.

We also went to Eilat, which is the seaside city at the southern tip of Israel. We got to go scuba diving with dolphins.

teenage tourist boys in scuba gear in Eilat Israel

The dolphins would come up right next to us and put on a small show of their own. The cool thing was the dolphins were wild and free to swim in the Red Sea whenever they wanted.

Also on that trip we took a mini two-day trip to Jordan. We wanted to see the ancient city of Petra, which is carved into a sandstone canyon.

We stayed at a hotel across the street from the entrance to Petra so we could be the first ones inside in the morning. At 6 a.m. we had the place to ourselves.

When you walk into Petra, the first thing you see is The Treasury. It is famous for being in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The city of Petra is huge. We hiked around there all day, learning about the architecture, the agriculture, and the irrigation system (they created their own aqueduct).

We got to see the painting on the ceiling of some of the houses and the remains of a huge amphitheatre.

Wadi Rum is nearby and is a vast desert that used to be the ocean floor.  There are random plateaus, 500 feet straight up, above the sand.  We drove around Wadi Rum in the back of a four-wheel-drive pick-up.

tourist family driving truck in desert of Wadi Rum jordan between two rock walls

Miles of beautiful scenery. It’s a landform you’ll never see anywhere else.

Wad Rum desert in Jordan with orange sand and large rock towers

We saw where they filmed The Martian and Lawrence of Arabia.

tourists on camels in wadi rum desert jordan with rock mountains behind

It was an all-around amazing trip.  Even if you’re not religious, Israel (and Jordan) is still a trip you really should take because it has played such an important role in world history, and you really can do everything there.

3. Morocco

When we went to Morocco, we went with our family friends on a road trip all around the country.  We started off in Marrakech and ended in Fez.  Much was desert, but there was also farmland and even a ski resort.

man looking over ancient village in Morocco

For the eight days we were there, we spent a total of 29 hours driving. On the long rides, in a nicely outfitted 12-passenger bus with Wi-Fi, we played Moroccan card games and built sites and markets we saw with Legos.

Earlier this year Wendy and her family traveled through the #2 country on our list: Morocco. Here they are at the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou.

Along the way we had many great experiences, like making drums out of goat skin and making Moroccan bread at a family’s beautiful home.

In between Marrakech and Fez, we glamped in the Sahara desert for a night and got to sleep like sultans in beautiful striped tents with real beds.

Morocco desert camp at night

We got up at dawn for a sunrise camel ride and to go sandboarding down the dunes.

Morocco desert sandboarding

We went on a sunset camel ride too.

camel trek through the Sahara Desert, Morocco.

We had races running up and down the dunes. Running in such deep sand was extremely hard.  The slower you go, the more you sink.  Running at different speeds will cause the properties of the sand to be different. Running on it fast will make the sand compact quicker, so it feels like sprinting on concrete, but if you go slowly, you just sink.

At the end of our trip we had a hammam.  A hammam cleanses your body and takes away a lot of dead skin. You have water splashed all over you. You sit in a really humid room, and then they shower you and scrub off all of the dirt and dead skin.

four boys wrapped in robes and towels in a hammam in Morocco

Having another family with us in Morocco added a lot to the experience.  When you travel to such an out-of-the-ordinary place, it’s good to be able to share it with friends your age and get their take on it.  That trip was my first trip with these friends and hopefully not my last.

4. United Arab Emirates

The buildings in Dubai were so futuristic.

Dubai Burj Khalifa view from hotel balcony

And there were million-dollar cars dotting the roads. I saw cars of famous YouTubers everywhere. I went to this car dealership called Deals on Wheels and it was amazing the type of cars that they had in stock. They had McLarens, Lamborghinis, Koenigseggs, Maybachs, and much more.

teenage boy taking photos of silver supercar in Dubai at Deals on Wheels auto store

We checked out the Dubai Mall, which is the biggest mall in the world, at more than 12 million square feet. It’s got more than 1,200 stores and one of the world’s largest aquariums. It was all air-conditioned, which was important because we were there in August when it was 115 degrees.

Dubai aquarium wall, with tourists looking through clear glass at a diver insider the aquarium

We also went to the Abu Dhabi desert for a couple of nights. We stayed at Qasr al Sarab, a desert resort where the cast of Star Wars: The Force Awakens stayed when filming. It looks like a huge Crusader castle in the middle of nowhere.

white buildings of Qasr al Sarab resort in Abu Dhabi desert

When I stepped outside to go sandboarding, the desert was scorching.  We walked about a half mile up a dune and the heat was so extreme that the boards didn’t even work. When the sand is that hot, it gets sticky. It was sticking onto the board so much that the board couldn’t really move.

sandboarding in Abu Dhabi desert

When I got back into the hotel, I felt so faint from the heat that I had to throw up. Fortunately, each villa had its own private plunge pool to cool off in.

Qasr al Sarab hotel villa pool Abu Dhabi

Every time I go to a desert, I go sandboarding and I also ride a camel. My favorite sandboarding and camel riding were in the Sahara desert, but it’s important to try them everywhere because they’re always different.

Abu Dhabi teenage boy tourist getting up on camel

Between Dubai and the Abu Dhabi desert, we stopped at Ferrari World, which is a Ferrari-themed amusement park. As a car lover it was a dream for me. I got to sit in a real Ferrari and even drove a racing Ferrari simulator.

child in car at Ferrari World theme park in Abu Dhabi

There was also the fastest roller coaster in the world, topping out at speeds of 150 mph in 4.9 seconds. They give you goggles (which you need) and put you on it. The coaster is definitely a 10 out of 10.

After the desert, back in Dubai, we stayed at the Burj Al Arab, which is one of the world’s nicest hotels. It’s built to look like a sail.

Burj al Arab in Dubai with ocean in front

It’s next to a water park belonging to a sister resort next door, and if you stay at one of those hotels you get free admission.

Dubai- Wild Wadi Waterpark

Mom’s friend and her two kids around our age came to visit.

Burj al Arab beach with kids

We played in the ocean and then went to Black Tap Dubai, which is a place that makes the most over-the-top milkshakes, which were phenomenal. That night we had dinner in a restaurant in the Burj al Arab that has an aquarium in it with lots of fish, sharks, and a few eels in the middle.

Burj al Arab's Al Mahara restaurant with aquarium in background in Dubai

There’s really no other place in the world like Dubai.  I would love to go back to the United Arab Emirates someday.


5. Sri Lanka

Even though it was such a long plane ride to get there, Sri Lanka was phenomenal.  The country has unique tropical animals I’d never seen before. At one hotel, we came back from dinner to find banana peels all over the floor of my parents’ room. Monkeys had jumped through the window, found the fruit basket, and peeled and eaten the bananas.  They had no interest in the other types of fruit and left them behind in the basket for my parents!

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has a culture that is totally different.  In our effort to learn about Buddhist culture, we went to a sacred rock temple that is one of the highest Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.  It was a very steep hike up 670 feet to the top of the rock.

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

At different levels on the way up, we saw giant Buddha statues.

At the top of the rock, we received a blessing and a lesson about the colors of the Buddhist flag and what they mean.

Anantara Peace Haven Resort in Tangalle, Sri Lanka

But the best part of the trip was when we spent Christmas Day at The Rainbow Centre. The Rainbow Centre is a school for kids who are in extreme poverty and can’t afford an education. The students are picked up by bus every day, then washed, fed, and taught basic schoolwork.

The second we got there, we were greeted with happy smiling faces and a traditional dance that they put on for us. We hung out with the kids for a long time and played many games with them—like Rounders, Musical Hat (this is like Musical Chairs, except with a hat), and Draw the Tail on the Elephant. One of the blindfolded girls holding the marker accidentally marked my nose instead of the elephant!

You can read more about our day at The Rainbow Centre, and see more photos and videos, in my article What Your Kids Get Out of Giving Back.

When we got back to the hotel, there was a man playing Santa—who probably weighed 90 pounds—riding a wave rider on the lagoon outside. He came and visited all of us kids staying at the hotel and gave each one of us a special present based on things we were interested in. It was definitely my most memorable Christmas!

The next day we went to an elephant orphanage where they rehabilitate injured and orphaned elephants. One of the elephants had to have a prosthetic leg made out of wood and strapped to his knee. He was able to move around and had plenty to eat.  Watching the baby orphaned elephants was very funny because they were only a few weeks old and learning how to walk, and they didn’t understand how to use their trunks yet, so their trunks kept flailing around randomly. It was so funny to watch.

Then we went on a safari in a jeep and saw dozens of big elephants in the wild.  They were so strong that we watched one of them uproot an entire grown tree just to be able to eat a few mangos off the top of it. That was amazing to watch.


If you’re trying to figure out where to take your own kids for an unusual trip, I’m happy to make suggestions. Just click on the black button below and ask for a reply from Doug.


This article was updated in March 2023. It was originally published in 2020.

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.

american teenage boys with family in Khiva Uzbekistan - making friends while traveling

How to Make Friends with Local People When Traveling

Update: These tips were written by Wendy’s son Doug (second from left in the photo) when he was 17, based on his experiences in 50 countries. The photos are from their family trip to Uzbekistan. 

Even when you don’t speak the same language, you can make a lot of friends when traveling. Here’s how I’ve learned to connect with local people in foreign countries. Hopefully some of these tips will help your own kids to connect with local people too.

The folks on our WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts excel at connecting travelers with local people. Need help choosing the right destination or local fixer? Click on the button below.


When someone wants to practice their English on you, let them.

We met the girls in the photo above in Khiva, and since then I’ve been friends with two of them on Instagram. They’re Uzbek but live in Russia, and we met them because they wanted to practice their English on us. If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, and someone wants to have an actual conversation with you, let them—and keep your sentences simple.

When you visit a market or shop, ask questions.

uzek women with bowls of yellow figs

They always ask where you’re from. So, if you’re in a food market in Urgench and you ask about their yellow figs, that will lead to a conversation about the figs where you’re from and how they’re different.

Remember that they want to learn just as much about you as you want to learn about them.

When you go into a shop, don’t be afraid to try on their clothes.

american teenage boy tourists trying on scarves in bhukara Uzbekistan shop

You can make them laugh by trying them on and looking funny in them. When you buy something, it doesn’t have to be expensive. You can buy something for the equivalent of 50 cents, and you’ll still get the same reaction from them.

Teenage boy helping young Uzbeki boy with homework in clothing shop

In this shop in Bukhara, while they altered a shirt for me that cost only $5, I helped the shopkeeper’s kid with his English homework.

american teenage boy tourists trying on hats at a shop in Uzbekistan and posing smiling with local owner

We made people laugh by trying on their headdresses and made friends that way.

Offer to take a photo of a group of people.

Local Uzbek tourists pose in front of the Registan in Samarkand Uzbekistan

They’ll appreciate it, and it usually leads to a conversation (even when you don’t speak the language) about how to work the camera, how to fit everyone into the shot, whether everyone is looking at the camera and smiling, where they’re from, etc.

Show people photos you’ve taken with your own camera.

Uzbekistan Bukhara fruit snack vendor

If you take a photo of someone (with their permission), it’s nice to show them the photo you shot to make sure they approve. Often they’re interested in seeing other photos you’ve taken too, and you end up showing them what else you’ve seen in their country.

In Zambia, we showed them photos from around the U.S. and around the world, and they were in shock at how different places like New York City are. Showing people your photos from home is a way of inviting them into your life, and then they invite you into theirs.

American traveler family poses with a woman in Bukhara Uzbekistan

We loved this woman who sold fruit and nuts in the main square in Bukhara. And she approved this photo. Her daughter was about to get married. We gave her $20 as a wedding gift, so then her mom weighed us down with free snacks.

Bring a sports item they don’t have.

american teenagers and Uzbek children playing with flying rings in Uzbekistan

It’s easy to make friends with kids through sports. They play soccer in every country, so you can always join a soccer game (or start one by bringing a soccer ball), but it’s even better when you introduce them to a new game that you can play together. We brought flying rings to Uzbekistan for the younger kids. (They’re lighter than frisbees and easier to pack and easier for kids to throw.)

We brought footballs for the older kids. They didn’t know what a football was, so we taught them how to play. In Sri Lanka we brought Nerf footballs, which they’d never seen before. It’s something you can enjoy together, and when you’re done, you can leave the footballs there for them.

an Uzbek man and child play with a football given to them by an American teenage traveler

Bring treats for little kids.

Fruit by the Foot works well, since it comes in individually wrapped packages and won’t melt. The kids can have races to see who can slurp it up the quickest.

If they invite you to dance, join in.

american teenage boys learning to dance in Khiva Uzbekistan

Embrace the culture, and don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself. What would be embarrassing in the U.S. often won’t be embarrassing in another culture. Also people will think: This seems like such a fun person; I want to get to know this person.

If they invite you to a party, go.

American teenage boys dancing with locals at a family birthday party in Khiva Uzbekistan

Parties are so different in different cultures, and chances are you’ll never be able to go to another party like that again. In Khiva, when we were invited to a 63-year-old woman’s “prophet age” birthday party, we knew it was our only chance to ever see such a party, so we went.

Learn a local craft from an artisan.

American teenage boy traveler gets woodworking lesson from local craftsman in Khiva Uzbekistan

You get to know the craftsman, and you get to keep the thing that you make.

American teenage boy traveler gets ddrum making lesson from local craftsman in Khiva Uzbekistan

In Morocco we made goat-skin and goat-hair drums. In Sri Lanka we painted traditional masks. Every time I see these things, they remind me of the craftsperson I met.

If you’re going to have a cooking lesson in someone’s home, teach them how to cook something from your home too.

American teenage boy traveler learns how to make baklava in kitchen of local Uzbek woman with other Uzbek women in a kitchen in Bukhara Uzbekistan

We visited Zulya’s family in her hometown of Bukhara and got to cook Uzbek dishes in their kitchen. Zulya is from Uzbekistan, and she planned our trip.

Uzbekistan - tourist boy cooking for local family in their home

We brought ingredients from home for making a dish they’re not familiar with. We brought brownie mix, and some flour tortillas and a couple of cans of baked beans for making burritos. They have completely different ovens and appliances than we do, so it wasn’t so easy.

american white teenage boy serves food to older Uzbek man in a kitchen in Bukhara Uzbekistan during a shared cooking experience

When you’re serving food, especially to elders, always show them respect.

Visit places of worship.

Uzbekistan Rabbi Abram Ishakov smiling

When you visit a church, a temple, or most other places of worship around the world, the people tend to be some of the most welcoming and outgoing people you will meet. In Uzbekistan, the best example of this was the rabbi who runs the oldest synagogue in Bukhara. He spoke about the great relationship between Bukhara’s Jewish and Muslim communities.

Even if you don’t know anything about a religion, places of worship will welcome you with open arms.

Play a public piano.

white american teenage boy playing piano on sidewalk in Samarkand Uzbekistan where public pianos are on the sidewalk

When you sit down and play a piano, people come by and start to talk to you. Chances are what you’re playing is a type of music they haven’t heard before, so they will be interested.

white american teenage boy playing piano for locals in Samarkand Uzbekistan

In the U.S. there are barely any public pianos, but we’ve found a lot of them in Europe—in Paris shopping centers, in the Brussels train station, in the Amsterdam airport—and there were quite a few in Uzbekistan.

It takes some getting out of your comfort zone to talk to strangers and dance at parties and play the piano in public, but in the end, you’ll get a much better experience of a country if you do these things than if you don’t.


This article was updated in March 2023. It was originally published in July 2021.

Be a smarter traveler: Sign up for Wendy’s weekly newsletter to stay in the know. Read real travelers’ reviews, then use the black CONTACT buttons on Wendy’s WOW List to reach out to the right local fixer for your trip.